Never in all her years performing theatre did director and actor Cheryl Jameson imagine the comedic Newfoundland-based Christmas story she imported to the Edmonton region would become such a cherished holiday tradition.
Now preparing to reveal the 11th edition of The Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant Ever, Jameson is ecstatic about the support she’s received in the past decade.
“I didn’t expect we’d be going this long. I jumped in and hoped audiences would appreciate it, and people liked it. It’s so funny and you see Christmas through the eyes of children. Come hell or high water, we’re going to continue,” Jameson said.
With a nod to pandemic restrictions, Jameson’s theatre troupe, Whizgiggling Productions, mounts the production online from Dec. 18 to Dec. 20.
“This will be 100 per cent different. We couldn’t get people together onstage and pass props. Now actors will Zoom from their homes. We had to modify scripts as a nod to the elephant in the room. We have added new jokes that are about COVID and I think people are ready to laugh at it. We’re not COVID heavy, but we’re mentioning being stuck in isolation,” said Jameson.
In past productions, actors invited the audience onstage. This year, the interaction continues by audiences muting and unmuting their microphones.
“We’re still looking for tradition with a bit of novelty and fun. It’s still the essence of the story and it will bring joy to people in their living rooms.”
The Best Newfoundland Christmas Pageant Ever is an adaptation of Barbara Robinson’s children’s novel. It’s a refreshing tale of three delinquent children: Ralph, 15, Imogene, 13 and Leroy, 9. Living on the other side of the tracks, they are notorious for smoking, lying, stealing, hitting people, swearing at teachers and burning things. In general, they cause trouble.
When they hear a rehearsal for the annual Christmas pageant is on, the trio crashes it and attends church for the first time. Free food is offered during rehearsal breaks, so why not fill their hungry bellies?
Not only do the Herdman siblings grab food, but they bully themselves into major roles. And this does not sit well with the good folks who disapprove of them. The trio’s unvarnished viewpoint gradually brings about understanding and a fresh perspective on the meaning of Christmas.
“It’s a rediscovery of the true meaning of Christmas through three children’s eyes. They don’t know anything about Christmas except what they receive through a hamper. We get lost in malls buying gifts, but we need to get down to Christmas’ roots. There’s a lot of laughter and this is a light, heartfelt way to enjoy Christmas and insert a bit of Yuletide into your life.”
The small-cast show features Jameson (Imogene), Sheldon Elter (Leroy), Natalie Czar Gummer (Mum), Kayla Gorman (Beth/Narrator) and Lindsey Walker (Alice). Cody Porter was originally slated to play Ralph, but stepped down after receiving a film offer.
Pinch-hitting for the cast is Bob Rasko, a well-known actor who tackled the role of Ralph in previous renditions.
“Bob is a fantastic performer and improviser. He and Sheldon have a band together, so their chemistry on stage, as Herdman brothers, is seamless.”
For anyone wishing to view the show, Whizgiggling Productions has loaded a Zoom video tutorial on its Facebook page.
The Dec. 18 and Dec. 19 production screen at 7:30 p.m. while the Dec. 20 production is on at 4:30 p.m. Sunday’s earlier time is set so viewers in Newfoundland can tune in at a comfortable hour.
Tickets are $15 per household and are available at tickets.fringetheatre.ca/events/601:3426/.